Housing in Wales

PLEASE APPRECIATE THAT I GET SENT MORE INFORMATION AND LEADS THAN I CAN USE. I TRY TO RESPOND TO EVERYONE WHO CONTACTS ME BUT I CANNOT POSSIBLY USE EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION I’M SENT. DIOLCH YN FAWR

The title tells you what this week’s article is about. I’m going to look at how the picture has changed in the past few years.

THE BIG PICTURE

Obviously, there are different types of housing, from mansions like Jac o’ the North Towers to more modest owner-occupied properties; then we have social rent properties, and properties rented from private landlords.

So let’s start by looking at how types of tenure have changed over the past two decades. (The year up to March 31, 2001 is the earliest I can find on the StatsWales website.)

The table I’ve drawn up is fairly self-explanatory. ‘Registered Social Landlord’ (RSL) is of course the official term for housing associations.

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The headline figure is that there are 163,067 more dwellings or housing units in 2020 than there were in 2001. Though in the same period the population rose from 2,910,232 to 3,152,879, while the average household size fell from 2.36 to 2.26.

In fact, if we multiply the total number of housing units by the average household size we arrive at a figure of 3,248,901.42. Almost a hundred thousand more than the population estimate. But of course calculations are complicated by people living in care homes, prisons and other institutions. And then there are holiday homes. And properties that have just been abandoned, where it’s often difficult to track the owner.

So, all things considered – and without taking my socks off to do some really serious figuring! – we have roughly the same availability of housing in relation to demand as we had twenty years ago. Maybe things are worse.

Something else we can extract from the table is that in 2001 19% of Welsh properties were social rents, whereas the figure today is just 16%.

But perhaps the biggest change has been the doubling in the percentage of properties now rented from private landlords.

If current trends continue then very soon more people, more families, will rent from private landlords than from councils and housing associations combined. This of course is what the Conservatives want, but why is it happening in ‘progressive’ Wales?

SOCIAL HOUSING

In 2001 we had 242,853 units of social housing. By 2020 this had fallen to 229,902, a decrease of 12,951. Found in this table.

Partly explained by 34,829 units being sold in this period under the Right to Buy legislation introduced in 1980 by the first Thatcher government, with this later supplemented by Right to Acquire.

Though offset by the building of 21,878 social rented housing units in the same period. Just over 1,000 a year.

Right to Acquire is Englandandwales legislation introduced by the Blair government and in operation from 18 January, 2005. Explained more fully here.

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At this point I should tell you that not all sales of social housing are accounted for by Right to Buy and Right to Acquire because this table tells us there have also been sales of “non-social housing”. Though I don’t understand why the figure for this category is only shown from 2013 – 2014. Though there’s certainly been a steady increase since then.

Building just over one thousand social housing units a year must be considered a failure after two decades of socialist administrations in Cardiff Bay. Especially when we remember that in 1979 – 1980 (immediately before Right to Buy was introduced) Welsh local authorities built 3,322 new council homes. (RSLs built a further 377.)

And a thousand a year looks even less impressive when we remember that in the period of devolution a couple of billion pounds in capital grant funding has been given to an ever-expanding galaxy of housing associations.

In the past five years alone, £574 million pounds of Social Housing Grant (SHG) has been paid to housing associations. Wales & West, Labour’s favourite, has seen £61m of it.

SHG is not the only capital grant paid. There’s also the Housing Finance Grant.

I’ve drawn up a table for SHG payments you can view by clicking here. It’s quite a big table, so please have patience.

(I should add that while the bottom line is correct I can’t vouch for every figure in every column. I may have made a mistake or two in transcribing them. So here are the figures I received.)

While the amount paid in SHG from 2015 – 2016 to 2019 – 2020 was 20% more than for the previous five years the stock of social rented housing increased in the same period by less than 2%.

We know that housing association executives like to pay themselves big salaries, and drive fancy company cars . . . shiny new offices are a must . . . and how can they miss out on all the conferences and other jollies, but these could never account for the increasing gulf between funding received and social housing built.

Something else must be going on.

If nothing else, Wales is following England in providing less social rented housing. So much for Rhodri Morgan’s, “clear red water”. So much for, “Welsh solutions for Welsh problems”.

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The Tories came to power in 2010, and that’s when the decline started. Clearly, the Labour management team in Corruption Bay is following Conservative directives when it comes to social rented housing.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

If we take the period 2014 – 2015 to 2019 – 2020 we see that it covers important changes in the way RSLs are regulated, and also how they operate.

I’m sure most people didn’t notice, but in the past five years Welsh housing associations were originally private bodies, were then made public, before being privatised again.

It was the Office for National Statistics that decided they should be public bodies due to the amount of public funding they were receiving. Plus the political involvement. But making them public bodies transferred their debts to the public ledger and so the parliaments in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff quickly privatised them again.

It’s explained clearly and succinctly in the article below from Inside Housing, just click on it to make it readable. (Here’s a link to the original article.)

I bet you’re thinking . . . ‘If housing associations are now private companies, why are they still getting lashings of public funding?’ Funding that, as we’ve seen, has greatly increased since they were ‘re-privatised’!

The answer is that they’ve branched out into building private housing.

To such an extent that, in addition to the public funding, our housing associations are also taking out private loans with various financial institutions.

Here’s a report from May of United Welsh of Caerphilly, which has just 6,000 properties, borrowing £50m from Scottish Widows.

In July we learnt Coastal Housing Group of Swansea had entered into a £250m ‘refinancing’ deal with Aviva Investors.

In August, Cadwyn Housing Association of Cardiff did a deal with Westbourne Capital Partners of Chicago.

And other housing associations have done similar deals with organisations much sharper than them in the ways of the financial world. I do hope they’ve read the small print.

Though I suppose the only real collateral housing associations have is their housing stock. If they default, does this mean that Welsh social housing stock gets taken over by lenders? Or will the ‘Welsh Government’ step in with yet more money?

Talking of the ‘Welsh Government’, if RSLs need money for investment, why can’t they go to the Development Bank of Wales (DBW), which is already lending to other builders, many from over the border?

So let’s recap. Housing associations, now private bodies, still receive increasing amounts of public funding. Yet they also enter into arrangements with financial institutions around the world. And let’s not forget that the other major source of income – perhaps the major source – is rents from the housing stock they own. Most of which came free as stock transfers from local authorities.

Another noteworthy feature in this period is that most if not all of our housing associations have set up subsidiary companies, or companies that are not subsidiaries but still part of the group.

SUBSIDIARIES, PARTNERS, PRIVATE HOUSING

An example would be the relationship between Ateb (formerly Pembrokeshire Housing Association) and Mill Bay Homes Ltd (MBH). The latter, despite being a separate company, is a “wholly controlled subsidiary company of Ateb Group Ltd”.

The arrangement is that MBH builds and sells market properties and the profits go to parent company Ateb to build social housing or ‘affordable homes’. Which might be fine if Mill Bay Homes had its own money . . . but it hasn’t, it relies on loans from Ateb.

Which means that the ‘Welsh Government’ funds a RSL to build social housing but the money in fact goes to a subsidiary to build open market homes (that most locals may not be able to afford) with a fraction of the original money returning to the parent company.

What is the point of such a system?

While Mill Bay Homes is a company registered with Companies House the Ateb Group is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority.

As we’ve seen with other housing associations, the Ateb Group has also borrowed money recently. Last month from the Principality Building Society. Back in July it was a loan of £18m from bLEND Funding PLC.

Officially, a cash security trust deed.

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Eighteen bloody million! How much does a relatively small, rural housing association need? It’s already getting money from the ‘Welsh Government’, and seems to have stopped providing social rented housing.

A visit to the Ateb Group website turns up what you see below. Quite clearly, Ateb is now a private house builder with social rented accommodation an afterthought.

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Click on ‘homes for sale’ and you of course get taken to the Mill Bay Homes website.

And there seem to be some rum doings between the two.

I am indebted to Wynne Jones in Cardigan for these documents from the Land Registry website (from which I have redacted a few names in the second).

A property on this development in Cilgerran (Ceredigion) was built by MBH, with money borrowed from Ateb, then sold to Ateb for £164,950 in October 2019; the following month Ateb sold a 125-year lease on the property for £57,733.

What business model is this?

Mill Bay Homes makes no secret of the fact that it’s punting for retirees and ‘investors’. The latter category will include Buy-to-Rent landlords, and whaddya know – one of the new Cilgerran properties is already being advertised for rent.

Plot 3 at Maes Rheithordy, Cilgerran, is being rented for £670 per calendar month through Jac y Do Letting of Blaenporth.

A similar arrangement to that between Ateb and Mill Bay Homes exists in Gwynedd between Adra (formerly Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd), which took over Gwynedd council’s housing stock some ten years ago, and its subsidiary, Medra Cyf.

A few days ago Adra put out this puff about building 1,200 new homes across ‘North Wales’. The “housing crisis” referred to is perhaps the lack of housing for commuters in the A55 corridor.

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The subsidiary that will be doing much of the building is Medra . . . with a loan from Adra.

This loan between a Welsh RSL and its subsidiary was arranged by London law firm Trowers & Hamlins. I’ve seen that name in other loans I’ve looked at. Are there no lawyers in Wales?

Of course there are, so who’s directing them to that company?

Also worth highlighting from recent years, in addition to the proliferation of subsidiaries, is the strange partnerships we see being forged.

For an example of this we stay in the north, with Cartrefi Conwy, based in Abergele.

I’ve written about this lot a few times. Below you’ll read what I had to say earlier this year, in Housing Associations, a broken model. The Byzantine network of ‘partners’ also throws up a mystery investor.

“Cartrefi Conwy set up a subsidiary in 2015 called Creating Enterprise CIC (Community Interest Company). Then, in May 2018, Creating Enterprise went into partnership with Brenig Developments Ltd to form Calon Homes. (Assets at 31 May 2019 £37,853.)

From the Creating Enterprise CIC accounts for y/e 31 March 2019. Click to enlarge

As I wrote back in November: “There is a charge against Calon Homes LLP held by Creating Enterprise CIC, which in turn has a charge held by Cartrefi Conwy. Which means that, ultimately, housing association Cartrefi Conwy is in partnership with private company Brenig Developments.”

When we look at the directors for Brenig Developments Ltd we find Mark Timothy Parry and Howard Rhys Vaughan. Both are also directors of Brenig Homes Ltd.”

Another horse out of the Brenig stable is Brenig Construction Ltd. Just another local building firm, run by local people . . . so impeccably local in fact that it could have come from League of Gentlemen.

But then, in December last year, a new director joined, a man who might have been taking his life in his hands if he’d turned up in the Royston Vasey shop.

I’m referring now to Yin Han, a Chinese businessman, presumably bringing a lot of yuan. For when I say Chinese businessman I do not mean that he hails from Hong Kong or Taiwan. Yin Han is a resident and citizen of the People’s Republic of China.

How did Yin Han and Brenig Construction find each other? What do we know about him? I guarantee he did not get involved with Brenig Construction without permission from back home. And that means the Communist Party.

These subsidiaries and partners, together with the loans and investment, are needed to build private housing for sale on the open market.

But housing associations are now private entities, so why do they need subsidiaries and partners to build open market housing? Surely they could do it in their own names?

Of course they could, but that would make it too obvious and probably jeopardise the public funding. So we have this charade of public money for social housing being given to RSLs and then filtered through intermediaries to build private housing.

And the ‘Welsh Government’ is a willing party to this deception.

‘AFFORDABLE HOUSING’

As a student of history, I’ve always loved Palmerston’s quote: “Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business – the Prince Consort, who is dead – a German professor, who has gone mad – and I, who have forgotten all about it.”

It comes to mind when I see the term ‘affordable housing’. Because there’s a great deal of confusion as to what it means.

It’s important to get a definition because it’s what RSLs now claim to be building, and what the so-called ‘Welsh Government’ is funding.

Is the ‘Welsh Government’ really proud of these figures? And ‘Rent to own’ in fact offers people a share of a lease! Click to enlarge

When I contacted the ‘Welsh Government’ I was referred to a publication wherein was found . . .

“The concept of affordability is generally defined as the ability of households or potential households to purchase or rent property that satisfies the needs of the household without subsidy (further guidance is provided in the Local  Housing Market Assessment Guide) 7 This could be based on an assessment of the ratio of household income or earnings to the price of property to buy or rent available in the open market in the required local housing market area.”

Which is interesting, and for two reasons.

If the concept of affordability is based on what local people on local wages can afford, then why is ‘affordable housing’ not reserved for those same local people? I ask because all the term means in practice is that a few properties in a development are labelled ‘affordable’ – but still put on the open market.

And if a small number of properties in a development are classed as ‘affordable’ then it must follow that the majority of the properties are regarded as unaffordable to most locals. So why are we building so many properties – with public funding! – beyond the reach of most local buyers?

The woolly term ‘affordable housing’ is just a fig leaf for the ‘Welsh Government’ and RSLs to disguise the fact that very little social housing is being delivered.

We are encouraged to believe that ‘affordable housing’ is for local people, or that it means social rented properties. Wrong.

CONCLUSION

This system, as I’ve argued before, is broken. It is broken because it consumes vast amounts of Welsh public funding for little or no Welsh public benefit.

Another cause for concern is that just as many third sector bodies are agencies of the Labour Party a similar picture emerges with housing associations.

In fact, housing associations and third sector bodies operate hand in glove, with the former housing the disruptive ‘clients’ of the latter, many of whom have been shipped into Wales. It’s collaboration like this that contributes to the problems we’ve looked at in Tyisha, Llanelli.

‘Welsh’ Labour’s little empire; stuffed with cronies and others dependent on political patronage and public handouts.

Take Wales & West, which I’ve referred to as Labour’s favourite. The CEO is Anne Hinchey, whose hubby Graham is a Labour Councillor in Cardiff. This explains why Wales & West has pulled down £100m in Social Housing Grant alone in the past decade.

And yet, let us remember that the reason the Office for National Statistics decided to put housing associations into the public sector was because there was so much governmental control!

As the June 2018 article from Inside Housing I reproduced above put it,

“In a letter to the Welsh Government sent yesterday, the ONS left open the possibility to reclassify individual associations as public should the level of state control increase.”

A strong case could be made for reclassifying a number of Welsh housing associations. Certainly Wales & West.

Where do we go from here?

I suggest that it starts with making it clear we do not want housing associations to build properties for sale to Home Counties retirees in Pembrokeshire, or to Manchester commuters in Denbighshire.

The sole duty of Welsh housing associations must be to deliver homes to Welsh people at sales prices or rents WE can afford.

If they are unable or unwilling to fulfil that role then I believe we should let our local councils provide social rented housing. Ensure they are well enough funded to provide decent accommodation to any and all local people wanting it. And make strong local connections the over-riding consideration in allocating those properties.

Then cut all funding to housing associations, which are, after all, private companies. Let them borrow from private lenders – as they are already doing – and cease being a burden on the public purse.

Whatever is decided, the present system is broken. Changes must be made. Even if you think this doesn’t affect you, just think what we could do with the money saved!

♦ end ♦

 

 




Jake Berry MP, Part 4

PLEASE APPRECIATE THAT I GET SENT MORE INFORMATION AND LEADS THAN I CAN USE. I TRY TO RESPOND TO EVERYONE WHO CONTACTS ME BUT I CANNOT POSSIBLY USE EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION I’M SENT. DIOLCH YN FAWR

Here we are again! For more news has come in about Jake Berry, the MP for Rossendale and Darwen who is also a property owner on Ynys Môn.

Though there have been moves behind the scenes to stop the word getting out. Facebook refuses to carry any mention of Jake Berry, or even a link to the blog when that link makes no mention of him! Now I can no longer access my Facebook page.

Telling me that this platform for despots, pornographers and election fiddlers may be closer to the Conservative and Unionist Party than I’d suspected. Thankfully I only ever used Facebook for carrying links to this blog.

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So let’s hope President Trump carries through his threat to rein in these social media platforms.

Even if you’re new to the saga you will have guessed that with this being part 4 there have been three previous instalments. If you haven’t read them then you might want to catch up. They were Jake Berry MP: ‘They seek him here, they seek him there’; Followed by Jake Berry MP, Part 2 and Jake Berry MP, Part 3.

AN INTRODUCTORY DIGRESSION

In order to explain what’s new I need to tell you about legislation introduced by those wonderful and talented people down Corruption Bay who go by the name of the ‘Welsh Government’.

I’m referring to the Housing (Wales) Act 2014. Like so much ‘Welsh’ legislation this was, essentially, updating earlier legislation with the addition of a few expensive and virtue signalling tweaks for the benefit of sectors in Wales close to the Labour Party.

The perks included increased influence for housing associations, which saw their Englandandwales role enhanced, allowing them to import more tenants from over the border.

The influence of housing associations also became clear with The Regulation of Private Rented Housing (Designation of Licensing Authority) (Wales) Order 2015.

This gave us Rent Smart Wales (RSW), a registration body for private landlords which began operating in November 2016. Responsibility for running RSW was given to Cardiff City Council. (Yet another example of Welsh jobs being unnecessarily concentrated in Cardiff.)

On the one hand, who could argue with asking private landlords to register and meet certain standards?

Yet those of a less trusting bent saw Rent Smart Wales as the ‘Welsh Government’ being pressed by housing associations into making life difficult for their biggest rivals. If it benefited tenants, then fine, but that wasn’t really important.

Housing in Wales is a contentious issue, perhaps more so than elsewhere, and this is only partly due to the proliferation of holiday homes and the extension of English commuter belts along the A55 and the M4.

To compound their errors the ‘progressive’ parties then voted to abolish Right to Buy. For being socialists they’re opposed to lesser mortals enjoying the benefits of private property; they want control over the people, they want a population beholden to the state. To them.

Labour and Plaid Cymru justified abolishing Right to Buy by arguing there was a shortfall in social housing. Yet strict local allocations would have dealt with any shortfall without having to deny many Welsh people their only chance of ever owning a home.

The three candidates in Plaid Cymru’s 2018 leadership contest owned, between them (with spouses/partners) nine or ten houses. It may be more by now.

But however we got here, we now have Rent Smart Wales.

But when attempts were made to introduce similar legislation in England in 2016, Jake Berry, the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen voted against. As did every other landlord Conservative MP.

Jake Berry’s position was perhaps understandable given that he owned rented property in Liverpool. You can see that in the Register of Members’ Interests declaration from October 2016 that he also declared a house and a share of a house in Rhoscolyn ‘North Wales’.

Jake Berry’s House of Commons Declaration October 2016. Click to enlarge

By the time of the most recent declaration, earlier this month, the Liverpool properties had disappeared and more properties had appeared on Ynys Môn.

The house with associated farmland is Rhyd-y-Bont, bought late last year for £780,000.

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One of the rental properties is Plas Coch, which seems to have been owned by the Berry family for some time. Last week I had a message from the former tenant of Plas Goch. He gave me his phone number and I rang him earlier this week.

He told me he had been the tenant of Plas Coch since 2012 but then, last summer, Jake Berry and his father turned up and gave him two weeks notice to get out. (I’m told Jake never came alone.)

When the tenant asked if the landlord or the property was registered with Rent Smart Wales Jake backed off and graciously allowed him a little longer before he had to sling his hook.

Clearly Jake Berry knew about Rent Smart Wales, and equally clearly, he wasn’t registered. To clarify the position I visited the RSW website. Searching for ‘Jake Berry’ turned up nothing. So I looked for and found an entry for Plas Coch. Which told me that our boy was calling himself ‘James Berry’.

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What seems to have happened is that after being challenged by the then tenant of Plas Coch Jake Berry went to the Rent Smart Wales website and made some kind of initial registration, but this was not followed through, indicated by ‘Licence Not Yet Submitted’.

There are a number of benefits for a landlord not registering with Rent Smart Wales. As a landlord who contacted me explained:

I find that people who ‘accidentally’ don’t register usually haven’t bothered with gas safety certification, deposit protection etc. Which begs the question, did your contact have his deposit protected? Was it returned? If he googles ‘is my deposit protected’ he can find out. He can claim back up to three times the deposit he paid if it wasn’t.

Rent Smart keep telling me they are actively issuing fines for those who don’t comply as we’re coming up to the fifth year of this being in place.

There’s something going on up in Anglesey, when I look on Zoopla at properties to rent there’s hardly any with Energy Performance Certificates which is another legal requirement.

If you want me to look into anything, I can do my best.”

Naturally, I took him up on his offer. For the idea that something odd is happening on the island raises all sorts of intriguing possibilities. Is Rent Smart Wales up to the job? Is a blind eye being turned on Ynys Môn to these irregularities?

The contact mentioned Energy Performance Certificates (EPC), and these can be found by following a link on the RSW website for each property. The EPC is very important because, from April this year, it has been illegal to “create new tenancies in England and Wales without an EPC rating of E or above.

The EPC for Plas Goch, according to the certificate issued 21 March 2013, was 50, putting it in the E (39 – 54) band. But that was 2013, God knows what the rating is now. The fact that no test has been done for 7 years might suggest that Jake Berry is not confident of passing.

As we’ve seen, the declaration in the Register of Members’ Interests lists a number of properties, but the problem lies in the wording: ‘Land and property portfolio: (i) value over £100,000 and/or (ii) giving rental income of over £10,000 a year’, which makes it difficult to know if what is being declared is ownership or rental income.

CORRECTION: It has been drawn to my attention that more careful reading of Berry’s Commons declaration tells us that (i) and (ii) can be differentiated. Which means that the final part, which must refer to Rhyd-y-Bont, says that the house (i) was bought at the end of September and the land (ii) rented out from December.

Enquiries are further hindered by two of the properties being shared, which opens the possibility of them being registered under another’s name. So I checked the RSW records again, where all properties under each specific post code are listed, for Cerrig and Mountain View. The former was listed but unregistered, while the latter wasn’t even listed. Is it known by another name?

So I tried looking under Jake’s Berry’s father, David, and I found an entry that fits the bill. A David Berry successfully registered with Rent Smart Wales last July, the same month ‘James’ Berry made contact. David Berry operates through agents Peter Large and Company Ltd on the north coast.

But irrespective of these considerations we can be sure that Jake Berry MP was illegally letting Plas Coch from 23 November, 2016, when the Rent Smart Wales legislation came into effect, until the middle of last year. And he knew it. 

What action does Rent Smart Wales, or indeed the ‘Welsh Government’, plan on taking?

WALES, THE RENTIER PARADISE

The former tenant of Plas Coch also told me that from conversations with a neighbour familiar with the Berry family’s holdings that the clan may have as many as 16 properties on Ynys Môn.

In addition to the ones we know, a few more possibles have been identified by various sources, including one where the local MP, Virginia Crosbie, is said to stay during her visits to the constituency. It’s difficult to check because the Land Registry documents show this property as still belonging to a man who died over three years ago.

But death didn’t stop him putting in a planning application last year. Praise the Lord!

As a result of the ‘Welsh Government’s war on farmers, its environmental virtue signalling that benefits none but malodorous dropouts on their OPD communes and eco-shysters covering our hills with flood-causing and bird-killing wind turbines, coupled with its refusal to build a rural economy beyond tourism and granny dumping, the greater part of our country is now given over to interlopers cleansing northern villages of their indigenous inhabitants so that the Cheshire Set can demand £3,000,000 for properties in ‘Abbasock’.

Is this the Wales you want; where your children or grandchildren have to leave because there are no homes and jobs for them, or else remain as a members of a helot population subservient to a new master race?

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In more than twenty years the ‘progressive’ parties in Corruption Bay have done nothing for the Welsh people. In fact they have consistently legislated against the Welsh national interest.

The Berry family and the other rentier networks are the result of  ‘progressive’ party policies being enacted in Corruption Bay. Socialist policies that have achieved the same result we would have seen if Unionist-conservative parties had been running things since 1999 – the steady but relentless anglicisation of Wales.

Ideological considerations are largely irrelevant in a colonial context because it’s the colony against its masters. Those within the colony who promote their own interests by trying to disguise or ameliorate colonial rule are little different and certainly no better than those whose interests they serve.

The only way to put an end to this cycle of decline is to abandon the self-serving middle men and women to vote for one of the new parties that puts Welsh interests first, above the deceits and delusions of ideology.

So join Gwlad or the Welsh National Party, and get active ahead of next year’s Welsh Parliament elections. Because we can’t afford to keep voting for the same old liars.

♦ end ♦

 




Let’s Be Honest About Housing Associations

This post is a revised version of an article that recently appeared in Cambria magazine

When I was growing up in Swansea in the 1950s most of the people I knew lived in terraced houses owned by people we didn’t know. For our house, the rent was collected by a chain-smoking bottle blonde from Mumbles who would enter the payment in her rent book with the kind of yellow fingers that persuaded me to become the only 10-year-old in the area who smoked his Woodbine from the other end of a cigarette holder. (Well, I was too young to give up smoking.) Despite our rent-collector’s aesthetic shortcomings, her caBuddy Hollylling was considered a steady job, and quite respectable. There were a lot of them about. Another I recall was a man with a bicycle that had a small motor affixed to the back wheel, which I found fascinating. I can see him now, tackling hills with the tails of his long, drab mac flapping behind him.

Some of these rented properties would then be sub-let, or lodgers would be taken in to help pay for a ‘telly’, or a week in Tenby. One such sub-lettee was ‘Old Sam’, who lived in someone’s front room across the road from us. Sam had piles of pennies (he had piles of just about everything, come to that!) and I’d be sent across the road when the gas meter was running low. Then, some tme in 1958, my father decided to join the property-owning classes. This rise in the status of the Joneses was not without disruption; for example, our new home needed a bit of work, things like a kitchen and an indoor lavatory.

So while the builders were in I was farmed out to my maternal grandmother over on Pentregethin Road. And it was from there, walking through a building site to Penlan School one bitterly cold February morning, that I overheard a trio ahead of me talking; “‘Ave ew yerd, mush – Buddy Holly been killed”. There’d been a light snowfall and the wind had blown the snow against the piles of builders’ sand. It was so cold that the snow didn’t melt, yet the fall had been so light that I could almost make out the individual flakes. That’s how I heard of the death of my idol, though the rest of that day is lost.


Those of our acquaintance that didn’t live in privately rented properties tended to live on council estates, such as Penlan, through which I had walked that dreary February morning. Penlan belonged to a new generation of post-war council estates, supplementing those Swansea had constructed in the inter-war period – Lloyd George’s ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ – most noticeably the massive Townhill-Mayhill estate, collectively and colloquially referred to as, ‘The ‘Ill’. As in, ‘Whe’ by do ew live, luv?’ ‘Up on the cowinʽ ‘Ill!’. (I’m making myself quite homesick here.)

Despite the allocation system for council tenancies being, theoretically at least, needs based, it was a decided advantage if one was a Labour Party member, trade union official, or friend / relative of a local councillor. Of course, as a young lad the complexities of this allocation system were beyond my ken, though it must be said that many of my elders were also confused. Especially those who thought they had enough points to put them near the top of the waiting list, only to find that they had been queue-jumped by a woman no better than she ought to be whose only ‘points’ seemed to be . . . no, let’s not go there, or I shall be accused of picking on the Labour Party again.

Yet it’s worth remembering that prior to World War One there had been very little housing built by local authorities; in fact, I’m not sure there was any council housing built in Wales. Before the Great War housing had either been built by the big companies and mine owners or quarry owners for their workers, or else the need for rented property was met by speculative developers. (In the village where I now live most of the properties over 30 years old were built by the owners of the local quarry in the 19th century to be rented to their workers.) But the fact was that just about everybody had a home, even if it was a little room like Sam’s, piled high with pennies, newspapers and God knows what else in a permanent fog of stale urine. Well into the 1950s unmarried adults (and many young married couples) lived with their parents, the elderly invariably lived with their adult children, while single men and young women who left home to work ‘took lodgings’ or found a ‘bedsit’.

So we can safely say that council or social housing, despite our familiarity with it today, has been a feature of Welsh life for less than a century. With its hey-day probably already in the past, for today most Welsh local authorities have lost their housing stock to housing associations. Another big difference between 1915 and 2015 is of course that most people today are home owners, and many more aspire to be, which is another need being met by housing associations with ‘shared ownership’ schemes and other imaginative arrangements. All of which makes housing associations worthy of closer inspection.


Despite self-applied labels such as ‘social enterprises’ and ‘not-for-profit organisations’ most housing associations are registered as Industrial and Provident Societies; registered with, but not regulated by, the Financial Services Authority. And unlike companies limited by guarantee they have share capital. Then, and despite wanting us to believe they are public bodies, housing associations are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000. (Your local council is of course covered by the Act.) All that being so, and it suggesting they are not public bodies, why have housing associations in Wales received billions of pounds in public funding since the arrival of devolution in 1999? And why is so much of this Welsh public funding seeping over the border in the form of maintenance contracts and sub-contracts for English companies?

If you think I’m exaggerating, just remember that thirty years ago the housing departments of our councils provided many tens of thousands of jobs, making this sector one of the biggest employers, especially in our rural areas. There were those employed in building and maintaining the hundreds of thousands of council properties, and there were also jobs in administration, allocating properties, collecting rents and dealing with all manner of queries. Thirty years ago local authorities were big players in the economic life of the country. ‘But surely’, you ask, ‘the council staff simply transferred to the new owner of the properties?’ Well, usually . . . some . . . and to begin with . . .

To explain what’s happening now I shall use an example I have studied on my own door-step – literally from my own door-step! In 2010 Gwynedd council’s housing stock was transferred to Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (Gwynedd Community Housing), and to begin with, things seemed to carry on much as before. More recently, worrying changes have been apparent. The contract for maintaining the properties was awarded to Lovell, a major English company which has its ‘local’ branch office in Cheshire. Lovell in turn sub-contracted to smaller companies over the border. Let me explain how this works in practice.

In 2013 Lovell’s sub-contractors were working in the Tywyn area and my next-door neighbour waited months for his bathroom and kitchen to be re-tiled. The tilers travelled every day – when they bothered to turn up – from Wigan. Their day worked out at roughly four hours of travelling and five hours of work! And this lunacy, remember, is being perpetrated with Welsh public funding and at the expense of Welsh sub contractors!

More recently we have seen the controversy over CCG’s attempts to bring in English managers. Defended and disguised with arguments such as ‘unable to find suitable Welsh-speaking applicants’ and ‘seeking the best for the job’, when the truth is that it’s a move to better ‘integrate’ CCG with the Englandandwales social housing setup. Those it is hoped to recruit will have contacts in England that will ensure Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd secures more tenants from the lucrative – but damaging to the host community – ‘vulnerable’ sector. The real question is, where did this diktat originate? Because CCG’s chief executive, Ffrancon Williams, seems to be just a mouthpiece in this, and the acquiescing Board member nothing but a smokescreen. The decision was certainly taken elsewhere.

The table below (click to enlarge) shows the amounts of funding given to Welsh housing associations in just one six-year period and from just one funding stream, the Social Housing Grant. Couldn’t that seven hundred million pounds – and all the rest! – have been better used?

Social Housing full

There are just so many problems attaching to the current arrangements for social housing. The one I have just dealt with in Gwynedd is replicated across Wales, resulting in thousands of jobs being lost and billions of pounds of Welsh money flowing over the border – Welsh public money that is supposed to be used to boost the Welsh economy! In addition, Wales is locked into an Englandandwales system that means a large family of English social misfits (or worse) can qualify for social housing in Wales ahead of locals; as can criminals, drug addicts, paedophiles and other who qualify as ‘vulnerable’, and therefore generate more income for whoever houses them. With such rich pickings on offer no one should be surprised to learn that many housing associations are building properties in numbers that cannot be justified by local demand – especially in some rural towns – and are only being built at all to meet the lucrative demand from England. As an example of what I’m talking about let’s remember the paedophile gang housed by Gwalia in Cydweli, which generated a lot more income than if those properties had been used to house law-abiding locals.

STOP PRESS: Just before posting I learnt that police in Haverfordwest are warning interested parties (schools, etc.,) that convicted sex offenders are now being housed in the centre of the town.

I don’t wish to paint an overly depressing picture (recalling ‘The Day the Music Died’ has already had me reaching for the Kleenex!), but social housing in Wales is an indefensible system. To conclude this section, and expose the lunacy from another angle, consider this. Apart from hundreds of councillors worried about losing their allowances just about everyone else in Wales believes we need many fewer local authorities. That being so, why does our ‘Welsh’ Government encourage the proliferation of housing associations – actually funding them to compete with each other? Or to put it another way: why should an area deemed too small to have its own local authority have half a dozen or more housing associations on its patch fighting like ferrets in a sack over the social housing racket?


The day of council-owned social housing is clearly coming to an end, dealt its death-blow by Margaret Thatcher’s Housing Act of 1980 and its ‘Right-to-Buy’ provisions. I would like to believe that we are approaching the end of social housing altogether and heading towards a system in which all rented accommodation will be provided by private sector. Housing associations are obviously a half-way house towards such a system, and were probably designed to be just that. What I would like to see in the next few years is their full privatisation. The writing may be on the wall, and it’s in David Cameron’s own hand.

In January 2012 the UK Prime Minister announced new legislation (due in 2015) for the governing of co-operatives (including Industrial Provident Societies), and he said, “We know that breaking monopolies, encouraging choice, opening up new forms of enterprise is not just right for business but the best way of improving public services too”. What I’ve underlined is a strange term to use in relation to what purports to be nothing more than legislation to consolidate earlier Bills and iron out anomalies. ‘New forms of enterprise’ in the same sentence as ‘public services’ should also have raised a few eyebrows.

Then we have the Housing (Wales) Act of 2014. On the one hand this seeks to further integrate Wales with England but it also has a lot to say about the ‘Regulation of Private Rented Housing’, with little of it aimed at your average ‘Buy-to-Let’ investor. My reading of Part One of the Act (by far the largest of the nine Parts) is that it sets the ground rules for a major shift in the provision of social or rented housing. And why not?

Housing associations already borrow money from banks and other institutions, so why shouldn’t they be allowed to look for commercial investors and shareholders? They would have little trouble in attracting them given that they have solid assets in the form of their housing stock. Housing associations would be ideal investment vehicles for pension funds, and socially acceptable for the more ‘ethical’ investor. Fully privatised social housing, with the right legislation in place to guarantee secure tenancies, prioritising locals, fair rents, etc., would not only provide investment opportunities but such an arrangement would also relieve a great burden on the public purse.

And there is of course another great advantage to handing the provision of rented housing over to the private sector. There is unquestionably a housing shortage, not in Wales, but in England. Despite the platitudes and promises, there is no intention of ever meeting the needs of all those wanting to own their own home, because to do so would reduce the value of millions of other homes people have invested in. So the demand remains. So why not meet it by letting the private sector build decent homes for rent, dwellings with – as on the Continent – more cachet than social housing and its connotations of problem families, pit bulls and sink estates? Give people a decent home, solve the housing crisis, and create jobs in the process, something that could be done without causing revolution in the suburbs.


Those buffoons down Cardiff docks who persist in masquerading as the ‘Welsh’ Government need to decide whether they want to start living up to their billing, or whether they continue allowing Wales to be run by English civil servants taking orders from London and doing little more than feeding the parasites of the Third Sector. If they choose the former, then one of the most convincing ways of showing their newly-grown gonads would be to devise Welsh laws for Welsh needs, rather than being bullied into accepting English laws with ‘(Wales)’ inserted into the name. Social housing might be a good place to start.

The table below shows that the fastest growing hoising sector in Wales is the private rented sector. Much of this is accounted for by ‘Buy-to-let’ mortgages but, increasingly, major companies and corporations are moving into the sector. Again, why not? As I’ve said, the demand for home ownership will never be met because to do so would lead to a collapse in property values; so why not allow private and commercial landlords to provide more salubrious accommodation than is currently provided by housing associations?

Housing by tenure

As I hope to have persuaded you, the current, Twilight Zone model of publicly-funded quasi-private companies is an unsustainable nonsense resulting from Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Right-to-Buy’ legislation. The irony being that it is currently sustained by ‘Welsh’ Labour and it’s right-on cronies in the Third Sector. This situation leaves us with two options. The first would see a new model of publicly-owned social housing, serving Welsh needs, employing Welsh people, and giving contracts to Welsh companies. The second option is to cut housing associations adrift (from public funding) and say, ‘Right you’re on your own now, behave like private companies, find shareholders and raise your own funding using your massive assets as collateral’.

The first option takes us back to that system we were once comfortable with (and so proud of); whereas the second option takes us back to private landlords (but without the bottle blondes with nicotine-stained fingers). Either option will be an improvement on the absurd system we know today; which sees far too many housing associations in Wales, and too many of them wanting to employ English staff, give contracts to English companies, and take in English tenants – and do it all using Welsh public funding!

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